"Your over-kindness doth wring tears from me!"
Claudio said that to Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing, and lately I've found myself saying the same to our Father over and over and over. Reading another little bit of Maria Von Trapp's autobiography inspired my tears on Tuesday-- all these "coincidences" He orchestrates all day long to bring His exhausted and miserable babies running headlong to Him with wobbly steps and much crashing into furniture. I was crying, I think, over His kindness, but also over the rather lively portrait of myself Maria's stories brought to my mind's eye: for so long I have believed I was above baby blunders, that I was stepping along beside God, proud as any Arabian pony moving through her dance. Reality reveals I am as much a tripping toddler as anyone, perhaps more so for having been so certain I was "all growed up" and the talk of the town, the girl with the best little bonnet in the Easter Parade.
One of the "coincidences" He's been orchestrating lately is that after a lifetime of sheltered Evangelicalism, I have been running into Catholics all over the place. Whether through books, involvement in the Pro-Life movement, the guitar player in my own band, or osmosis-izing the ubiquitous mist that is Church History, Catholicism has been challenging my proud little concept of the cosmo.
First there is Kieth, who is still the only Protestant convert to Catholicism I have ever met. He's crazy enough to do all the research and jump in with both eyes wide open. Then there is Samantha, the only girl I have ever met who is so in love with Jesus that her decision to become a nun is the most logical and laudable in the world. She also gave me The Theology of the Body for Beginners, the condensed version of Pope John Paul II's treatise on marriage, sex and holiness. It is by far the best book I have read on the subject, and it has given me the gift of a Biblical apologetic understanding of the why of sexual purity, before and after marriage. No Evangelical explanations in my experience has succeeded so well. (Seriously, go read it.) Then I notice that the truly uplifting stuff filtering through my Facebook feed is not the chichi memes of the Protestants but rather the substantial and often humorous insights of "Support the Catholic Priests". Then Pope Francis starts kissing the faces of the unlovely and I begin to think Surely God is pleased with this man's heart. Adrianna, a fellow volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center, reads her Bible and with child-like logic believes what it says during the most heartbreaking chapter of her life. And then there is Maria Von Trapp-- headlong, tempestuous, heedless Maria. She is so beguiled by God that her toddler careening takes her from convent to motherhood to the South Pacific mission field to the Catholic wing of the Jesus movement.
Twenty-seven years of gathering bits and pieces of knowledge about Catholicism did not prepare me to be bowled over by the winsome reality of the faith displayed by the truly dedicated Catholics I have been privileged to meet in the last four years. I have found in them more passion and vitality than in a hundred average Protestants. Even the "on fire" youth of my Evangelical experience have a lack of foundation which frequently results in burn-out, falling away, and incomprehension. We AG, non-denom, Baptist, Foursquarers have no catechism, nothing to memorize, no liturgy permeating and informing our childhood, no meaningful traditions-- nothing but the potentially shifting standard of our own "personal relationship with Jesus." [Don't misunderstand me-- I am justly grateful that the Word says I have no need of any other Priest than Jesus. But as my friend Brook recently wrote, "Unfortunately, a once vibrant intellectual Protestantism has become anything but a protesting body while the last Roman Catholic Catechism made very large steps in the direction of Reformed thought. Pope John Paul before he died stated that Luther was correct as regards salvation by grace through faith. So while Roman Catholicism remains in grave error on so many fronts, its error is now no longer any greater than the errors that mainline protestantism finds itself embroiled in currently."]
It is not nice to copy out my prides and prejudices on the blackboard of life's school room, but I do it because at the end of each line I may now add the lesson learned, and I would not wish to bury that to save my vanity. The lesson, dictated several days ago by my personal Lord and Savior was this: The acid test of your salvation-- whether Catholic, Protestant, or RNP (Really Nice Person)-- is Do you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord of all (and Him alone), and do you believe in your heart that God (truly) miraculously raised Him from the dead? You do? Congratulations! You're saved!
Because what it does not say is, "And if you believe that saints can help your prayers, or that Creation is a little ambiguous, or that good works/baptism/speaking in tongues help you get to heaven then you shan't be saved." Salvation is a matter of addition, not subtraction, and those things are subtractions. Add the confession of your mouth and the belief of your heart to your life and viola! Salvation. Subtract behaviors and faulty beliefs and you get.... better behavior and better beliefs. Not salvation. Glory to God! We all have blind spots, we all believe and practice goofy things, we all sin. But if qualifiers and rhetorics are stripped away for a moment, we see that with the answer to just these two questions we may know who is toddling as fast as they can in the same direction-- straight to the Father's arms.